Salty Paws - Do Cats Make Good Mariners?

 by Ron Stob,  America's Great Loop Cruisers Association

Toby's Tub's CatToby the cat,
Caladesi Island State Park, FL
Jean and Garret Mulderhave have, Skipper, their fluffy Bichon Frise aboard their 40-foot Nova, Boat of Us , and their pooch seems to be perfectly at home, deporting himself circumspectly. Dogs are fairly common boating companions, but what about cats? Do they make good mariners?

Ed and Carol Huff aboard Vera Segunda, a 32-foot Grand Banks, wrote, "It feels as though everything revolves around Pearl, the boat cat. She is most entertaining. At anchor she spends the evenings running around the decks fearlessly. In a full run she will leave the bow and race to the dinghy on the stern, then leap up onto the boom and walk back to the cabin top. When the dinghy is in the water behind us, she will leap from the boat to the dinghy and snuggle down in the bow. She likes to walk on the handrails around the boat, which scares the daylights out of us. We know one day she will slip in the early morning dew and get a good dunking.

The thing that amuses us the most is that Pearl plays catch. She has a couple of multi-colored balls that are her favorites and will chase them when they are thrown, then retrieve them and drop them in your hand. Pearl will play catch for hours. If you throw the ball from the back of the cabin through the door to the forward stateroom and onto the bed, Pearl will run and leap the gap from the floor to the mattress, get the ball in her mouth, leap back to the floor, and either put the ball in your hand or drop it on the floor nearby and bat it over to you. She plays until she is panting. She also will come when she is called."

One night after going out for dinner, "We went back to the boat well fed and with leftovers for Pearl. However, Pearl was missing and had been gone since before dinner. I got the shore party detail to do a search and rescue. With flashlight in hand I began along the docks, and then expanded to around the buildings. Ultimately I saw two little yellow eyes peering out from the tall grass. After a chat, Pearl decided it was time to scamper back to the boat and did so without complaining. Pearl enjoyed her leftovers of shrimp and steak. She's not too spoiled!"

With a name like, Canoe, you'd think our feline companion would be a perfect boat kitty. Canoe is a cool cat, unruffled by most circumstances. He conducts himself stoically in our truck/fifth-wheel trailer for extensive land trips, and on our 25-foot trailerable cruiser, Li'l Looper, his usual deportment is to retreat to a small space in the salon where he backs in and looks out. He doesn't venture out to the helm, unless we're moving at trawler speeds, then he may come out, brush against us, and lie at our feet.

Once in port, or at an anchorage, however, he's more comfortable, especially as the sun sets and the great horned owls begin to hoot. He'll watch fish jump, follow the passing herons and ducks, and appear content. As evening deepens, he may even walk the narrow walkway around our cruiser to the bow. During the night he patrols the cabin, checking out every sound, and periodically walks across us, licking our face to make sure we are awake and alert.

After a few days on the water on a recent trip down the Cumberland River, Canoe was settling in, though he was always a little "up-tight". At marinas he'd roam on a harness and 20-foot of line, and get himself totally wound around other boat's anchors, fishing gear and stanchions. Then we'd have to reel him back in, lest he hang himself.

It was Sunday in Nashville and we had been on the water since Tuesday. He sat on the edge of the boat as it rocked at the dock, dealing with a constantly moving platform admirably.

Then he decided to go for a walk on the dock. He stopped to look over the edge into the dark water and saw an image of a cat just like himself. He jumped back in startled amazement, his ears pinned back, looking all around, as if this cat was going to surface and attack him. He walked down the dock a bit farther, crept back to the edge and slowly looked into the water again. There was that same dumb cat with the big yellow eyes and the ears pinned back, obviously following him along the dock, but down below. He jumped back again, repeating this scene time and again, until he finally walked a straight line back to me and onto the safety of the boat, where I imagine he thought, "Nuts to that. There's some weird lookin' cat down there."

Another episode seemed to alter his savoir faire attitude. One night at an anchorage, we decided after dark to put up the canvas. Lightning and rolling thunder predicted rain. Canoe was under foot, then he was nowhere to be found. We didn't know where he was, a situation repeated numerous times on our trip, so we looked in the cabinets and cubbies, calling his name. I pulled back the canvas and looked toward the bow. Canoe was backing up (there wasn't room to turn around) toward me. He'd been shut out. For a couple of days after that, all he wanted to do was sleep. He was a real fraidy cat and walked gingerly. Eva thinks he strained himself to keep from falling overboard.

Canoe seems to quickly shakes off or forget these circumstances, however, and return to his usual playful, cuddly self. With three weeks on the Erie Canal planned for this summer, he should be seasoned…or totally traumatized. Still in all, I don't think we do Canoe a favor by taking him along. Maybe he needs to hang around with Pearl, the Huff's boat cat, and learn how to have fun on a boat. But he is Eva's baby and he does put a third personality on the boat which leavens the tensions sometimes. And it gives me another guy to talk to. "So what do you think, Canoe, will the Tennessee Titans go all the way this year?"

Article reprinted with the written consent of AGLCA.